Jacksonville Sports Day

SEC PREVIEW: Pruitt, Vols, Fired Up to Play Gators in Front of 1998 Team

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt said he noticed a sense of urgency in the Vols this week following Wednesday’s practice at Haslam Field.

“Our guys are taking things a little bit better from the meetings to the practice field and from period to period,” said Pruitt. “We’ve still got to finish. Right there at the end of practice, had a couple things that we’ve been working on, we’ve done really well and then at the end of practice we didn’t do it as well, so we have to learn to sustain.”

The Tennessee-Florida rivalry is annually one of the nation’s most anticipated games, and for just the fourth time since the two teams started playing annually, the Vols and the Gators will meet under the lights at Neyland Stadium.

In those four games, Tennessee holds a 3-1 record, winning night contests in 1990 (45-3), 1998 (20-17) and 2004 (30-28). The lone loss came during the 2006 season when the Vols lost a late fourth-quarter lead, falling to the eventual National Champions, 21-20.

The last four games in the series between the two programs have been decided by an average of 4.5 points, but the Vols are seeking their second straight win in Knoxville over the Gators.

Honoring the Past
Members of Tennessee’s 1998 National Championship team will be honored as “Legends of the Game” approximately 22 minutes before kickoff. In addition to the pre-game recognition, the entire championship team and staff will be recognized on the field at the end of the first quarter.

“I think it’s a huge deal,” said Pruitt. “I think it’s huge for those guys who represented the university. They found a way. You think about it, as hard as it is, they were the best team in all of college football in 1998,” Pruitt said.

“They played the right way, finished the year off as the national champions,” he continued. “I hope those guys get around our guys, because the most important people to me in the program are the players. The guys who work, sweated, bled to build this university to what it is. Those guys did it at the highest level. ”

The 1998 Vols finished 13-0, defeating Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl to cap a perfect season. In total, 31 players from the 1998 team went on to be selected in the NFL Draft.

Harris Moves to Offensive Line
Freshman Kingston Harris moved from defensive line to offensive line this week in a move to bolster depth. A native of Orlando, Fla., Harris was a prep star at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Harris appeared on the defensive line as a reserve against West Virginia and ETSU.

“We thought Kingston was doing well at defensive line, but when you look at our defensive linemen, he’s probably the one guy that can make a transition and be able to help us, just to create some depth,” said Pruitt. “We just felt like it was something that we needed to do this week and next week and through the off week.”

Pruitt Confident in Callaway
Pruitt affirmed his confidence in junior wide receiver Marquez Callaway at punt returner. Callaway muffed a punt against UTEP last Saturday, but has excelled in the return game during his Tennessee career.

“Punt returner is no different than any other position. We’ve worked several guys back there,” said Pruitt. “Marquez dropped the ball the other day, but I have confidence in him, and we sent him right back out there. He’s our best punt returner and I believe he’ll do a good job, and we’re continuing to work guys behind him.”

Callaway had a 62-yard punt return touchdown as a freshman in 2016 and has been Tennessee’s first-team returner since last season. For his career, he has averaged 11.7 yards on 17 returns. Last season, Callaway ranked fourth in the SEC in punt return average (8.4).

Vols Earn PFF Awards
Junior linebacker Daniel Bituli and freshman defensive back Bryce Thompson were named to Pro Football Focus College’s SEC Defensive Team of the Week on Tuesday.

Bituli ranked first on the team in tackles vs. UTEP, recording six stops and his first-career sack against the Miners. Thompson also had a career first on Saturday, forcing his first fumble as a Vol.

On the offensive side of the ball, sophomore running back Ty Chandler and junior wide receiver Brandon Johnson were named to the SEC Offensive Team of the Week by PFF College.

Chandler rushed for over 100 yards for the second time in his career during UT’s 24-0 win over UTEP, tallying a career-high 158 rushing yards. He previously rushed for 120 yards at Kentucky on Oct. 28, 2017. Johnson led the Vols with four catches for 51 yards in the win over the Miners.

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